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Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating: One Possible Path to Recovery is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

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There are many paths to recovery for people with eating disorders. But if you have an eating disorder or if you are a parent trying to find help for your child’s eating disorder, the wealth of information can be overwhelming. So in the next few articles, we’ll explore some of the most effective therapies available.

The first treatment is called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This therapy is described by The Center for Eating Disorders, they write that “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a well-researched and proven method for the treatment of eating disorders.” As the name infers, the therapy involves changing the way people with eating disorders think (cognitive) and changing the way they act (behavioral).

CBT has three stages: stabilization of symptoms, cognitive restructuring, and relapse prevention and maintenance planning, according to The Center for Eating Disorders. During the stabilization stage the patient and therapist create a specific program suited to the individual patient. Then the work to change the damaging behaviors begins immediately at the patient’s very first appointment. This stage also involves working on the serious emotions that may arise due to changes in behavior.

However, during the stabilization stage the Center for Eating Disorders writes that “…tools (coping strategies) for managing these feelings are developed and become an important part of the work. CBT includes in-session activities as well as homework so that new behaviors can be practiced.”

During the second stage, cognitive restructuring, the patient learns to change their faulty thinking. Anorexics have negative tapes playing in their heads all the time and bulimics have self loathing thoughts. In the cognitive restructuring stage, these faulty thinking patterns are identified, broken down and dealt with one at a time. Again in explaining this stage, The Center for Eating Disorders writes that “…broader concerns such as relationship problems, body image, self-esteem, and emotion regulation are addressed.”

In the third stage called relapse prevention and maintenance planning, the time between secessions is lengthened and future goals are set. The dual objective of this stage is to sustain the progress already made and to prevent a relapse once the therapy has ended.

People with anorexia often have control issues and require constant activity. Since CBT gives the patient some control in developing her own program and has in-session activities and homework, it seems especially suited for anorexic patients. Yet this treatment is not for everyone. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy focuses on the present and the future. So for eating disorder patients who have issues in their past that must be worked on, this is not the proper treatment.

Research on the best treatments for eating disorders is sorely lacking in the United States. I find the majority of research in Canada, England and even Greece. All these countries have some form of universal health care. That should tell us something.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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